The Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) posts updates here about all things COVID-19, including vaccinations, testing, and the state of the pandemic.
WHAT DOES THE END OF THE COVID-19 PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY (PHE) MEAN FOR PROGRAMS AND SERVICES?
For three years, we’ve fought COVID together to achieve a remarkable 86% vaccination rate in Baltimore City. Because of our collective hard work, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved.
However, COVID has not entirely gone away, and if you are high risk or don’t have the latest vaccine, COVID can still cause severe disease or even death. Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) and our partners will continue:
- Providing free vaccines.
- Providing free take-home testing kits.
- Contact tracing.
- Conducting outbreak investigations.
To learn more about BCHD’s COVID-related services, visit our website here. Keep reading to learn what the end of the public health emergency (PHE) means for City, state, and federal programs and services, including vaccines, testing, health insurance, food benefits, and more.
To help protect yourself and others, continue to stay up to date on your vaccines, test if you have symptoms, stay home if you are sick, and wear a mask if you prefer. Click on one of the topics below to be taken directly to the corresponding content.
- COVID-Related Programs and Services
- Medicaid Health Insurance
- Food Benefits (SNAP)
- Medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorder
To help continue to keep communities safe from COVID, the US Government is creating plans to make COVID vaccines and treatments part of the traditional health care marketplace.
This means that out-of-pocket expenses for vaccines and COVID treatments may change, depending on your health insurance (similar to the cost of vaccines and treatments for other viruses).
Is BCHD still providing vaccinations?
BCHD and our partners will continue providing residents with free vaccines, regardless of health insurance status.
We will continue providing vaccinations for all age groups, with a focus on people living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and senior housing, people living with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, immigrants, and pregnant women and families.
Where can I get vaccinated?
BCHD and our partners will regularly provide clinics in neighborhoods across the city where residents can get vaccinated or receive take-home tests for free. Adults and children can get vaccinated at:
BCHD’s Eastern Clinic
1200 E. Fayette St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Tuesdays from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. (adults ages 18+)
Fridays from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (children)
Adults and children can also get vaccinated at BCHD’s community clinics. Visit our website for a list of clinics at which the City is offering free vaccines.
Who should get vaccinated?
The COVID vaccines – including the bivalent vaccine – are safe for people ages 6 months and older. Anyone can get vaccinated with the bivalent vaccine, even if they haven’t received any COVID vaccine before.1
The Baltimore City Health Department recommends that all eligible residents receive the COVID vaccines. If a person 18 or older is unable to receive a Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine due to a history of allergic reactions, anaphylaxis, or other medical condition, a Johnson & Johnson or Novavax vaccine may be given.2
What about bivalent vaccines?
If you have received your initial round of vaccines (two Moderna or Pfizer shots, or one Johnson and Johnson shot), you can get a bivalent vaccine.
If you have received your initial round of vaccines and a mono-valent booster (or even two mono-valent boosters), you can receive a bivalent vaccine.
Adults ages 65 and older and most people who are immunocompromised can receive a second bivalent vaccine.
See this press release from the US Food and Drug Association (FDA) with information about who can and should get vaccinated. BCHD will update our future vaccine guidance as it becomes available from the FDA/CDC.
Because COVID is still present in our communities, people may still choose to wear a mask. Because COVID is airborne (meaning it spreads through the air like smoke), N95 and KN95 masks offer the best protection.3
In partnership with BCHD, the Enoch Pratt Free Library is offering a limited number of KN95 masks. These are available at all Pratt Library locations on a first come-first-served-basis while supplies last.
See this CDC webpage for information on where to find free, high-quality N95 masks.
BCHD COVID testing has transitioned to at-home test kit distribution only. PCR testing at the BCHD community clinics ended on May 5th.
With the end of the PHE, people who get their health insurance through Medicaid will no longer be able to get free over-the-counter COVID tests.
Private insurance companies may also begin to charge their customers for over the counter COVID tests. However, this will be up to each insurance company, and some companies may choose to continue to cover them for free. You can purchase take-home test kits at pharmacies including Walgreens and CVS.
BCHD and our partners will continue to provide free take-home tests, regardless of health insurance status. In partnership with BCHD, the Enoch Pratt Free Library is offering a limited number of at-home rapid COVID test kits. These are available at all Pratt Library locations on a first-come-first-served basis while supplies last.
We will also continue to support clinics in neighborhoods across the city where residents can get vaccinated or receive take-home tests for free.
Testing for people who are homebound
Homebound testing in Baltimore City is being offered by Civic Works. City residents who are homebound can request a COVID rapid test kit if they currently have symptoms of COVID and face a barrier to transportation.
Residents are considered homebound if they have access and functional needs, an illness, or mobility issues that prevent them from leaving their homes.
Call 410-929-5448, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Leave a message and include your name, address, phone number, and if you need assistance in administering the test. Tests will be distributed within 24-48 hours, Monday through Saturday. There are no deliveries on Sundays.
What should I do if I test positive?
Even though the federal PHE has ended, the CDC still recommends that people isolate if they test positive for COVID.4 See this CDC webpage for information on what to do if you test positive or if you are sick and waiting for your COVID test results. The CDC recommends that people stay home for up to 10 days when they have COVID and that they wear a high quality N95 mask when around others in their home or if they need to leave their home.
In addition to isolating and wearing a mask, the CDC recommends increasing ventilation to help protect people in your home. This means doing things like opening windows and turning on fans to help reduce how much of the virus builds up in the air.
Paxlovid is a medication used to treat COVID. If you test positive for COVID, you can take Paxlovid to help treat the virus. The US Government recommends starting Paxlovid as soon as possible up to five days after your symptoms start.
As of August 2023, the US Government is continuing to provide Paxlovid for free.
You must have a prescription for Paxlovid. Prescriptions can be obtained from your health care provider or through the Test to Treat program. Currently, patients aged 12 years and older who are diagnosed with mild to moderate COVID and who are at high risk for developing severe COVID can be prescribed Paxlovid.5 You may be at higher risk for developing severe COVID and qualify for Paxlovid if you:6
- Are over the age of 65.
- Have asthma.
- Smoke or used to smoke.
- Have a chronic illness or medical condition including cancer, kidney disease, liver disease, lung disease, cystic fibrosis, diabetes (type 1 or 2), dementia or other neurological condition, a heart condition, sickle cell disease, or Stroke or cerebrovascular disease.
- Are immunocompromised.
- Are overweight.
- Have a mental health condition.
- Are pregnant.
- Have a substance use disorder.
- Have had an organ or blood stem cell transplant.
Medicaid programs will continue to cover COVID treatments like Paxlovid for free through Sept. 30, 2024. After that, coverage and costs to patients may vary by state.
If you test positive for COVID, either with an at-home test or a PCR test, please let the people you have come in contact with know so they can take precautions and protect other people who they interact with. If you’d like, you can share this CDC webpage with people you came in contact with that explains what to do if you were exposed to COVID but haven’t tested positive.
The CDC no longer recommends universal contact tracing. However, BCHD will continue to make calls for contact tracing to the following groups:7
If an individual was seen at a healthcare facility, tested positive, and is over 65, under 18, or someone of any age who has a medical condition that makes them high risk for severe COVID
If the individual or employee tested positive and works in a congregate setting, such as a nursing home or recovery home
There are important changes happening to Medicaid health insurance. Please update your contact information with Maryland Health Connection so you can get important information about your health insurance.
People who get their health insurance through Medicaid normally need to re-apply each year. Maryland paused this rule during the Covid public health emergency. Now, the state is reviewing everyone who receives Medicaid. People who receive Medicaid will either:
a) need to re-apply or
b) sign up for private health insurance if they no longer qualify for Medicaid
Here is what Marylanders insured through Medicaid need to do:
- Update your contact information on the Maryland Health Connection website.
- Watch for messages from Maryland Health Connection in the mail, your email, and your Maryland Health Connection online account.
- Renew your Medicaid coverage (or sign up for a private plan if you learn that you are no longer eligible for Medicaid).
Baltimore City Health Department does not help people apply for Medicaid benefits. Health Care Access Maryland (HCAM) can help. Baltimore City residents can call HCAM for help at (410) 649-0521.
Visit this website for more information and FAQs about what is happening with Medicaid in Maryland.
What if I receive Medicare AND Medicaid?
Older adults, people who are blind, people who are disabled, and people enrolled in a Home and Community-Based Services program might get Medicaid through myMDTHINK (instead of through Maryland Health Connection). These individuals will receive a notice from the Department of Human Services (DHS) when it is time for them to renew their coverage.
Please update your mailing address, phone number, and email address with DHS so they can reach you about your insurance coverage. You can update your information online, over the phone at 1-800-332-6347, or in-person.
You can contact the Baltimore City Department of Human Services for assistance.
Medicare and Telehealth
During the COVID federal public health emergency, patients with Medicare were able to use telehealth to get the health care they needed. The US Government is continuing to allow most of these telehealth services until December 31, 2024.8
Now that the federal public health emergency has ended, patients who want to use telehealth to monitor chronic conditions will need to first have an in-person visit if they will be using a new doctor. After this first in-person visit, they can then switch to using telehealth with that new doctor. However, some health care providers might not require an in-person visit.
Although this is not a rule, CMS recommends that Medicare beneficiaries see their new doctor in-person first before then being seen through telehealth services. This can help avoid possible out-of-pocket costs and an appeals process. It is a good idea to check with your insurance provider and doctor to see what telehealth services are available and covered by your insurance plan.
The end of the federal public health emergency will not affect Medicare recipients’ ability to get vaccinated or treated for COVID for free. You can still get vaccinated for free and receive Paxlovid (a COVID treatment) for free. Additionally, you can still get a COVID test for free if that test was ordered by a health care provider.
Other Medicare Changes
During the federal public health emergency, the government paused the “3-day rule.” Now that the emergency has ended, the rule is back in place.
To qualify for skilled nursing facility (SNF) extended care services coverage, Medicare patients must meet the “3-day rule.” The 3-day rule requires a patient to have a medically necessary inpatient hospital stay of at least three days before their post-hospital SNF services will be covered. Note that the three days do not include time spent in the emergency room before being admitted to the hospital, the day the patient is discharged, or outpatient observation. See this fact sheet from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services for more information that might help you or your family avoid out-of-pocket expenses.
In 2020, the US Government temporarily increased SNAP benefits. This was called “SNAP emergency allotments.” This temporary emergency boost ended in Maryland in February, 2023, so you may have seen your SNAP benefits decrease.9,10
It is important to make sure that your information is up to date with the Maryland Department of Human Services. Because SNAP benefits are based on your income and expenses, you might be able to get increased benefits if:
- Your income has decreased
- Your rent or mortgage expenses have increased
- Your childcare costs have increased
- You are paying more to care for a disabled adult
- For people who are older than 60 or disabled: you have medical costs that are more than $35 per month
- You can update your information online with the Maryland Department of Human Services.
For assistance with SNAP benefits, call the Baltimore City Department of Human Services at 1-800-332-6347.
BCHD’s Food Access Programming
BCHD will continue to offer home delivered meals and grocery boxes for older residents and their families. Residents 55 or older can call Maryland Access Point at 410-396-2273 to request food resources. Recipients must be Baltimore City residents and experiencing transportation, mobility, or financial challenges.
Additional Food Resources
To find a food pantry near you, visit the Maryland Food Bank website.
Additional community food resources can also be found on the CHARMCare website.
Access to buprenorphine for opioid use disorder treatment in Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) will not be affected by the end of the PHE (at least for now). Patients will still be allowed to start buprenorphine in an OTP by telehealth without having an in-person physical exam first.
In March 2020, the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) changed the requirements for getting a prescription to buprenorphine in Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs). Before COVID, people needed to visit a doctor for an in-person physical exam before they could start taking buprenorphine. Because of the pandemic, the US Government changed this rule to allow people to start buprenorphine in an OTP by telehealth without having an in-person physical exam first.
This flexibility has been shown to be safe and effective.11 SAMHSA and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are working on making this flexibility permanent.12,13
Access to increased methadone take-home doses for opioid use disorder treatment will also not be affected. Since 2020, OTP patients have been allowed to take home more doses. This flexibility will continue until May 2024 and may become permanent after that.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services “this flexibility has allowed people with opioid use disorder to stay in treatment longer, supported recovery, and has not resulted in increases in methadone-related overdoses”
During the PHE, people were allowed to receive more medical services through telehealth – either through video calls or over the phone. Maryland has allowed most of these services to continue until June, 2025, and may allow them to continue for longer after that.14 Check with your health care provider and insurance company to find out what telehealth services are available and covered by your insurance plan.
Need help paying for internet?
The Affordable Connectivity Program and Lifeline are federal government programs that help eligible households pay for internet services and internet-connected devices. Households may be eligible to participate in both programs.
You automatically qualify for these programs if you participate in the following programs:
- Federal Public Housing Assistance
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Veterans Pension or Survivor Benefits
- Tribal-specific assistance programs
- You may also qualify even if you don’t participate in the programs listed above
Baltimore City Health Department does not provide housing support services.
During the federal public health emergency, the US government gave emergency funding to states to support people who needed support with rent and mortgage payments. During this time, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development distributed money to Baltimore City.
The Baltimore City COVID-19 Temporary Rent Support Program, run by the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development, is no longer accepting applications.
The Mayor's Office of Children and Family Success’ Eviction Prevention Program (also known as “Emergency Rental Assistance”) has also closed the application portal and is not accepting new applications. However, the program will continue to process applications that were submitted before Feb. 3, 2023.
Baltimore City’s Department of Housing and Community Development has a list of legal resources for renters in Baltimore City.